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Most Americans are eligible for free tax preparation services, but the truly free options can be hard to find. If you’re not careful, you could end up using  a service  that says it’s free but demands payment after you’ve spent time entering your information.

How do you file online for free?

If you make less than $69,000 a year,  you can find free tax filing options at  the IRS Free File webpage.

There are options from TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxSlayer and others.

Each site has its own eligibility requirements, so be sure to find one that will be free for you.

It can take a bit of effort to find the correct option to fit your situation. Try using the IRS  lookup tool  to find the right one. Most of the options provide tax prep for both federal and state returns.

Best for:  People who make less than the income cap and want a convenient and easy way to file online.

But buyer beware: Some companies use a  variety of tactics  to try to  wring money  out of you, often only throwing up a paywall after you’ve gone through the trouble of inputting most of your information.

The widely advertised “free” options are typically only  really  free based on which tax forms you need to file. Which forms are free and which will trigger a fee depends on the company. So read the fine print before you decide.

Here is the  list  of forms supported by H&R Block’s “free online” version.

Here is the  list  of forms supported by TaxAct’s “free” offer. Click the tab labeled “forms.”

Here is the  list  of forms supported by TurboTax “Free Edition.”

In another case,  Credit Karma  offers a free tax filing service for “all supported forms,” but the company tries to monetize your  personal tax data  by using it to target you with advertising.

Best for:  People who don’t qualify for Free File but have income only from a standard job and perhaps a bank account, and want to file online.

If you’re in the military, you can use  MilTax, a service provided by the Department of Defense that uses a version of H&R Block’s tax software. It is available for free to active-duty service members as well as those in the Guard or Reserves, as well as their families. There are no income or tax form restrictions.

You can also get free advice from a professional who understands tax issues specific to the military. The phone number is 800-342-9647, or you can live chat with them  here.

Best for: People in the Military, Guard or Reserves and their families.

How can I get in-person tax help for free?

You can qualify for the  IRS’  Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program  if you:

  • Make less than around $56,000 a year, OR
  • Live with a disability, OR
  • Speak limited English

The program  matches you with IRS-certified volunteers across the country  who can help with free basic income tax preparation and electronic filing. You can use the  Volunteer Income Tax Assistance locator tool  or call 800-906-9887 to find someone to help you. Keep in mind that some locations may require an appointment.

Best for:  People who are confused by the tax process and want someone to help walk them through the process.

If you’re in the military,  you can get free in-person tax help on many U.S. military bases worldwide.’s base guide  is a good place to start.

Best for:  People in the military and their families who want advice from someone who knows the ins and outs of military tax filing.

Why is TurboTax charging me?

If you make less than $36,000 a year (or $69,000 if you’re in the military) and TurboTax is telling you it costs money to file,  you are probably using the wrong version of TurboTax. Don’t worry, there is a way to access the  truly free version.

As  ProPublica reported  last year, TurboTax  purposefully hid  its Free File product and directed taxpayers to a version where  many had to pay, which is called the  TurboTax Free Edition. If you clicked on this “FREE Guaranteed” option, you could input a lot of your information, only to be told toward the end of the process that you need to pay.

You can access TurboTax’s Free File version  here. This version is offered through the Free File agreement.

TurboTax’s misleading  advertising  and  website design  directed users to more expensive versions of the software, even if they qualified to file for free.  After our stories published, some people demanded and got  refunds. Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, faces several  investigations  and  lawsuits  because of this. The company has denied wrongdoing.

Following  ProPublica’s reporting, the IRS  announced  an update to its agreement with the tax-preparation companies. Among other things, the  update  bars the companies from hiding their Free File offerings from Google search results. It also makes it so each company has to name their Free File service the same way using the format:  IRS Free File Program delivered by [COMPANY NAME].

What’s the difference between TurboTax’s “Free Guaranteed” and IRS Free File Delivered by TurboTax?

TurboTax Free Edition is not always free. It has only been free for  tax returns  that the company defines as “simple.” That means  people with student loans and the unemployed  had to pay to file. Look for Intuit’s  “IRS Free File Program delivered by TurboTax.”  This year, you are  eligible  if you:

  • Make less than $36,000 a year, OR
  • Make less than $69,000 a year and serve in the military
Lucas Waldron/ProPublica

What is Free File, and who is the Free File Alliance?

The Free File Alliance is actually a group of tax companies that – contrary to the name – is in the business of charging people to help them file their taxes.  They have  spent a lot of money  to make sure that the IRS does not develop its own free tax filing service that would compete with what they have to offer. As part of the new Free File Alliance deal, the IRS is now able to offer a competing service, but is not doing so this year.

The Free File Alliance companies have agreed to offer free tax filing for a certain percentage of the population based on your income. Head to the  IRS website  to see which option is the best for you. These are the companies  in the alliance:

  • 1040NOW Corp.
  • FileYourTaxes
  • Free Tax Returns
  • H&R Block
  • Intuit
  • OnLine Taxes
  • TaxACT
  • TaxHawk
  • TaxSlayer

Update, Jan. 27, 2020:  This post previously referred to an option,, offered by United Way in partnership with H&R Block. The site stated, and United Way had previously told ProPublica, that it offered free tax prep to all filers, except those who need to file Schedules C, D or E.

After a ProPublica reader told us that the site was not working as advertised, we reached out to United Way and H&R Block. After our inquiries, both United Way and H&R Block said the eligibility information on the site had been wrong, and on Jan. 27 it was pulled down for “maintenance.”

An H&R Block spokesperson said “the information provided on was unfortunately incorrect. We apologize for any confusion this caused people using the service.” A United Way spokesperson said, “There was a misunderstanding around the eligibility requirements around MyFreeTaxes.”

For more coverage, read ProPublica’s previous reporting on the  IRS  or the  tax prep industry. And here’s how to  send tips and documents  to ProPublica securely.

Kristen Doerer is a reporter in Washington, D.C. Her writing has appeared in PBS NewsHour, The Guardian and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. Follow her on Twitter at  @k2doe.

Source: ProPublica